A Call to Action: Let’s Honor the Wisconsin Voters and Protect Our Democracy!

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Wisconsin Voters waiting to vote. Photo by Mike de Sisti/USA Today Reuters

The Problem(s)

Wow! Said she who always endeavors to be optimistic. Are we in trouble! First and foremost, of course, is this pandemic hanging over and among us. But the November election isn’t far off, and with so much uncertainty about how wide the pandemic will spread and how long it will last, the concept of voting by mail is an obvious imperative. 

Yet this President, who now insists his powers are absolute, is claiming that vote-by-mail is a giant fraud that shouldn’t be allowed. Why? If we allow the Democrats to include funding in the next coronavirus relief package to expand voting opportunities and allow more widespread vote-by-mail in response to the pandemic, he said, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” 

In this case, he is simply voicing publicly what Republicans have been doing quietly for years. As The New York Times reports: 

“The push to limit voting options is in keeping with Republicans’ decades-running campaign to impose restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and younger voters, under the banner of combating voter fraud, which is exceedingly rare.”

In another article, the Times observed:

“Studies have shown that all forms of voting fraud are extremely rare in the United States. A national study in 2016 found few credible allegations of fraudulent voting. A panel that Mr. Trump charged with investigating election corruption found no real evidence of fraud before he disbanded it in 2018. “

Indeed, Charles Stewart III of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a political science professor who studies “the machinations of voting” observed:

“What we know can be boiled down to this: Voting fraud in the United States is rare, less rare is fraud using mail ballots.”

In the face of the lack of evidence, the Republicans persist. The reason is fear of loss of power. As I’ll note below, their fears aren’t even justified. 

But the operative concept is–or should be–quite simple: One Person, One Vote. You either believe that as many people should vote as possible, or you can’t claim to be representatives of our small d democratic republic. This is a huge issue.

So it’s clear to me that in response, we need a huge Democratic turnout reaching all levels of government in November—not just to save our democracy—but also, because of the mishandling of the pandemic by Trump and some Republican governors, to save our lives. 

And that means every vote must be allowed to be cast and counted—no easy task. There are lots of impediments, both built-in (eg, the Electoral College), and human made (eg, gerrymandering, racial targeting, Russian interference). See this New York Times article about the complexities involved. 

I think it behooves us all—as concerned citizens also acting in enlightened self-interest—to demand that our electoral mechanisms are as geared up as possible to ensure the election results echo the voters’ intent.

Here’s Some Good News In That Regard

—Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden have introduced a vote-by-mail bill that they hope to get into the next Coronavirus relief package. It’s called The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act and “would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states and would reimburse states for additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic.”

In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Senator Klobuchar writes: 

“And if you want to know what it’s like to vote in a healthy, safe and secure way—from the comfort of your own home—just ask President Trump. He’s been doing it for years.

—Michelle Obama’s nonpartisan voting group, When We All Vote, has announced its support for expanding vote-by-mail, online voter registration, and early voting. Calling those efforts “critical steps for this moment,” she stated: 

“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country: making the democracy we all cherish more accessible, and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.

—The National Task Force on Election Crises, a “diverse, cross-partisan group of more than 40 experts in election law,  election administration, national security, cybersecurity, voting rights, civil rights, technology, public health, and emergency response,” has set forth goals that include expanding no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail; maximizing early voting days and hours; increasing the number of polling places and other voting options; and proactive, transparent communication with voters.”

This group was founded to ensure that our elections are safe from interference by the Russians and others. It has now expanded its efforts in view of COVID-19. I listened to a very interesting podcast by several of its members on Talking Feds, chaired by law professor and political commenter Harry Litman, in which one speaker observed that Secretaries of State in states throughout the country are gearing up for this massive task.

The brave Wisconsin voters have laser-focused our attention on the threat to our democracy.

I question whether anyone with an ounce of decency, regardless of party, could have remained unmoved by the sight of those loyal Americans standing on long lines to exercise their precious right to vote in the midst of this pandemic, forced to choose between voting and their health—and possibly lives—by outrageous and purely partisan decisions on the state and national levels by both legislators and the Courts, with the President as cheerleader.

To recap briefly: 

  • On April 6, Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, sought to have the primary moved to June.
  • The Republican-dominated state legislature challenged his decision in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which struck down the Governor’s action.
  • The US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling reached remotely from their own safe spots, voted to reverse a lower court’s decision to extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots by just six days to ensure people could vote safely.

The Republican state legislature wanted to keep the vote low, believing it would help them reelect a conservative state court judge. President Trump agreed. He lobbied hard for the guy and against vote-by-mail, saying it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” 

It turned out that was the case in Wisconsin this year. Though both Democrats and Republicans expected a low turnout, especially in Democratic stronghold Milwaukee, where there were only 5 polling places open instead of the usual 18, Jill Karofsky, the liberal challenger, defeated Justice Daniel Kelly, the Trump-endorsed incumbent, by more than 160,000 votes. (Joe Biden also decisively defeated Bernie Sanders in what might have been bigger news under other circumstances.)

This Should Not Be a Partisan Issue

But despite President Trump’s claims—and his unjustified cries of fraud (which, as noted previously, study after study have shown is practically non-existent at this point—oh, wait, there was that North Carolina election fraud case by a Republican operative in 2019)—vote-by-mail doesn’t automatically benefit Democrats.

In fact, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all of which Trump won in 2016—already allow their voters to vote by mail for any reason. 

A study published April 14, 2020, by the Democracy and Polarization Lab at Stanford University examined data from 1996-2018 and found no evidence that the roll-out of vote-by-mail in California, Utah, and Washington helped either party.

Vote-by-mail is already the primary method of voting in five states: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah. Former Governor and current Senate candidate John Hickenlooper of Colorado said they’ve seen a handful of fraudulent attempts in the millions of votes cast since its inception.

So facilitating vote-by-mail should be a non-partisan issue, but it isn’t. And since some believe that the number of people voting by mail may double in 2020 and account for one half the voting population, the systems state-by-state are really going to need help to protect the integrity of the electoral process. And the Post Office must be ready.

There Are So Many Facets to What Must Be Done. 

One Atlantic writer, Marc Elias, noted:

“Experience and past election results show that in order to prevent vote by mail from inadvertently disenfranchising voters, states must adopt four key safeguards:

(1) Postage must be free or prepaid by the government.

(2) Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must count.

(3) Signature-matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters.

(4) Community organizations must be permitted to help collect and deliver voted, sealed ballots.

“We know that lack of pre-paid postage is an impediment to voting for many lower-income and young voters, and experts have found that requiring voters to have mail ballots received by Election Day, rather than simply post-marked by Election Day, has a disproportionate impact on minority voters. In 2016, a determination that a voter’s vote-by-mail signature failed to match the signature on file was the most common reason for rejecting a ballot. Finally, experience shows that laws that prevent community organizations from assisting voters with the collection and delivery of voted and sealed mail ballots disadvantage minority voters.”

Regardless of Party, We Should Want to Maximize American Voter Participation

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Aerial view of voters in line Scott Olson/Getty Images

Elias adds that because some voters, especially minority voters, strongly prefer to vote in person, they must be able to do so safely, with sufficient staffing by state agencies assisted by students. He foresees government workers being given overtime pay to do this, and high school and college kids receiving both payment and credit. In part, this effort will make up for the many elderly people who formed the bulwark of poll workers in the past.

Expanded curbside voting—in which voters drive up, get their ballot, and return it—without having to leave their cars, is now available in a number of states for disabled or elderly people. Elias and others recommend expanding it for everyone.

We have seen early voting being cut back in some states in an effort to disenfranchise voters. Elias recommends expanding it to include weekends, thereby reducing long lines and enabling those who want to vote in person but can’t get to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballots.

He recommends that “vote anywhere rules” be adopted by all states, so that a voter who appears at the wrong polling place may vote for the offices for which she or he would be eligible. This move, which some states already allow, would negate the need for provisional ballots that often aren’t counted.

And here’s a very interesting idea: states should create systems that enable a voter to reserve an off-peak hours time slot when they can vote, which would also reduce lines.

“The goal should be to avoid letting the rules dictate who wins based on whose voters can participate. Only by taking these steps can we be assured that the rules of the election won’t unfairly tilt the playing field.”

What You and I Can Do

In a recent visit to Twitter, where I am primarily a reader/lurker, I came across this tweet from a woman named Jo:

“Wisconsin is incredibly inspiring but no one should have to risk sickness or worse to vote. Be as patriotic as these fine folks and spend time today writing, tweeting, and calling your elected officials to support vote by mail and tell 12 of your nearest and dearest to do the same.”

I was so taken by the import of that simple tweet that I responded:

A sound and constructive plan that I should have thought of but didn’t. Thank you!

I have followed that advice, leaving messages with my senators and representative encouraging them to ensure that Congress allots the money needed by the states and the Post Office to make vote-by-mail viable in all 50 states by November. The Post Office support is an essential element. Apparently, President Trump has added the US Postal Service to his hit list.

It’s also crucial that Congress fund the other voting initiatives discussed above to secure safe in-person voting.

As I’m contacting my nearest and dearest, I’m adding you, dear readers, to my list. If at least twelve of you will deliver this message to your legislators—and, in turn, encourage twelve of your nearest/dearest to do the same—perhaps we can really make an impact. 

This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We’ve got a lot of hurdles ahead of us. Now’s the time to make our voices heard.

Are you with me?

Annie

39 thoughts on “A Call to Action: Let’s Honor the Wisconsin Voters and Protect Our Democracy!

  1. I heard about the Wisconsin vote and was amazed at the result. The tide may finally be beginning to turn against Trump, thanks to his narcissistic bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (but the fact that it takes something like this to wake some people up to what the rest of us have realized about him all along, tempers my optimism). The election is still 6 1/2 moths away — still plenty of time for Trump for Trump to work his black magic, pull every dirty trick in the book, and recapture his lost support.by hook or crook.

    Excellent post (if annieasksme, or not). 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Annie sure did ask you, mistermuse, and thank you for your kind words. I am aware that my self-indulgence in writing long, referenced, less personal posts is not to everyone’s liking, but they’re important to me, and since I’m the boss here, I get to inflict them on my readers from time to time.
      We do know to expect trump to pull every trick in the book, by hook AND crook. So we gotta hope that enough voters will emerge from every nook to cast out trump et al without so much as a backward look. (I’m as insufferable with rhymes as with puns.) Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Annie. It’s a pleasure to read your posts and comments, but occasionally when I click “Like,” it doesn’t take (same thing when I click to follow certain blogs). I think I’m following yours, but WordPress is very temperamental (for want of a better word) at times (and I’m not very tech-savvy), so I appreciate your keeping in touch to help me keep in touch. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie, I’m glad you reminded me of your article as I meant to reblog it. I try to wait so the reblog isn’t done right after the initial publication, hoping to catch later readers. Doing so now…an ambitious project and an important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I kinda thought so, but if it had been your birthday, I would not have wanted to miss sending greetings! So happy 72nd anniversary of April 15–for you; just looking at those numbers made me weary.

        Like

  3. In California, we have been able to vote by mail forever — until recently, we called it absentee voting, but one could apply for permanent absentee status. When it was publicized and more people requested absentee ballots, there was some concern that “my vote won’t count.” In fact, the mail votes and early votes are those that provide the early counts, almost immediately after the polls close. The question has been dealt with county by county, but more and more have seen increases in the vote-by-mail volume. Voters can verify that their vote was counted — I can’t remember concerns after any election about votes not being counted, OR about multiple counting of votes. It works, and it works well. I hope this will be one of the good things to come out of coronavirus necessity!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I got here via Judy.

    The alternative Vote by Mail in the UK works extremely well.
    I have voted this way for a number of years simply because of the convenience. The envelopes are pre-paid by the government and votes must be received on or before voting day.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Like you we are given a date for the election, but if we can’t make it because of illness or a need to be out of town we would lose our vote. I didn’t want to take that risk. Thank you, Annie

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent article as usual, Annie. As always, it is frustrating having to argue for initiatives that seem like common sense. The only argument against it, fraud, has been proven many times to be vastly overstated. Here’s hoping it comes to pass!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with you and will be forwarding this along. Thanks for another well-researched, well-constructed analysis of where we are today. Keep up the good work. My senators will be hearing from you!
    Denise

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Denise! And I’m so glad you’re spreading the word and contacting your elected officials. I don’t think people realize that even if they know their representatives and senators agree, they need reinforcement from hearing from their constituents. And they’re always getting an earful from the naysayers, which must be countered.

      Like

  7. I’m all for thoughtful discussions of what is to be done, but am leery of what comes off as a partisan cheering session. I think that every eligible voter should be allowed to vote if he or she wants to. But only eligible voters, and then only once.

    There is no question that there are partisan shenanigans when it comes to elections. But both parties want their people to win and the other’s people to lose. I don’t think that blanket statements of “Democrats only want what’s fair” and “Republicans are only out to screw people out of their rights to vote” are definitionally overbroad and politically charged.

    Every voting system will present opportunities for mischief and/or instances of unfairness. Voting by mail/absentee is something worth looking at, but with open eyes. These days we have to be wary of scams of all sorts, like the voicemail I just got purporting to be from my electric utility that my power will be cut off if I do not pay them. (My balance due is $0). We should not set up systems that lack protection against those less honest than you and the readers of this blog. You have to admit that there are more than a few of them out there, on both sides of the partisan aisle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JP, I sorely wish this was not a partisan issue, but the Republicans have made it so in continuing to spout canards about voter frauds and using them as an excuse to disenfranchise voters. Study after study has shown they’re just not true. No one is saying that systems shouldn’t have safeguards.

      I am now watching the most disgracefully cynical and downright terrifying efforts by this President to foment a red state/blue state divide over the rational ways to reopen society in the face of this pandemic. The Republicans in Michigan’s state legislature started the rebellion that the President is egging on to distract from the disaster his continuing lack of leadership is making worse. Why are the Democratic governors following the science and the Republican governors—with some notable exceptions—ridiculing it? Rural America is seeing the beginnings of the pandemic now. Who will be left to vote in November? And why didn’t the Republicans remove this unstable man before he could do the damage so many of us feared was inevitable if a crisis hit? I wanted desperately to be wrong. I take no pleasure in his monumental failure. But he is destroying this country, and the Republican Party of 2020 bears the responsibility.

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      1. “spout canards about voter fraud” – is it then, your belief, that voter fraud does not exist at all? This is neither rational nor true. The Heritage Foundation has been tracking instances here (https://www.heritage.org/voterfraud). Over 1100 criminal convictions is not nothing. Is Heritage conservative? Yes. Does that mean none of the things they cite are true? Of course not. 43 instances in my own state since 2003. The northwest corner of Indiana (part of Chicagoland) is legendary for hardball machine politics that results in politicians going to jail more often than would be optimal. You might check out your own state’s listings on that website.

        Surely we can agree that vote fraud is bad, and that any system should be designed with an eye towards minimizing it. Just like we should be able to agree that people who qualify to vote should be allowed to do so with as few restrictions as reasonably possible.

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      2. I suggest you check this resource, though I suppose you’ll negate it as partisan.

        Included is a 2017 refutation of The Heritage Foundation report you cite, as well as more current information. Of course I’m not saying that voter fraud doesn’t exist at all. It’s simply been vastly overblown and the most recent flagrant example involved Republicans.

        Yes; I agree with your final paragraph. I just think it’s been manifestly clear that it is a partisan issue in recent years. Trump would not have disbanded the commission he set up to prove the extent of voter fraud if they had found anything. I stand by my position. It is a canard.

        https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/ensure-every-american-can-vote/vote-suppression/myth-voter-fraud

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    2. JP. I agree that no voting system will be fool proof. Reminds me of an old story about LBJ and his father (Don’t know if it is true). His dad sent him to the cemetery to collect names off tombstones so they could register the deceased as voters. Lyndon came back with a lot of names, but not all of the tombstones. His father admonished him and sent him back to get the rest, with the words:” Every corpse in that cemetery has the right to vote!”

      Yes. there is voter fraud. Very minimal voter fraud. A black woman who thought she was registered but wasn’t , voted in Texas. She was convicted of fraud and jailed. An old couple in a western state had property in 2 states and thought they could vote in both of them. The GOP operative in North Carolina was collecting absentee ballots and filling them in, causing the state to throw out the election results.

      But, wide scale fraud? Nope. If you may recall, one of the first things Mr Trump did after he took office was to appoint a commission to investigate the millions of illegal voted cast by Mexicans and others. It was one of those “Now we gotcha” commissions. They were going to expose the massive fraud that gave Hillary the 3,000,000 advantage in the popular vote. Whatever happened to that commission? It died a quiet death when they could find no wide scale, or even small scale fraud. A lot of hoopla when it was created. Silence at its death……. https://apnews.com/f5f6a73b2af546ee97816bb35e82c18d/Report:-Trump-commission-did-not-find-widespread-voter-fraud

      Of course, the real voter fraud is voter suppression and gerrymandering. Look at Wisconsin. The majority of voters voted for Democrats for the sate legislature. But the gerrymandering gave the GOP the majority in that body. And in Georgia, even the supreme court ruled that the districts were drawn to disadvantage minorities. Most disturbing, the US Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering to give a political party an advantage is LEGAL under federal law. Go figure.

      One sure way to minimize voter fraud (which is already minimal) is to make it easy, not difficult , to vote. Vote by mail. Early voting. Voting with free IDs. When we see people waiting in lines, as in Wisconsin, because the state has closed down poling places, it is an outrage. Voting should be encouraged, not discouraged. But we all know why one political party in particular seems to be the one always limiting voting rights. Wonder why?

      Another problem is registration. When I taught Government class in high school in NY I was able to register EVERY student in my classes. The local Board of Elections would send me the forms and I would help the kids fill them out in class. In contrast, Florida made a law requiring people like me to register with the state and actually fining people who did not turn in every registration form. They place other burdens on folks trying to register voters as well, some of which the courts ultimately overturned. ( lengthy report on voting rights can be found in the Brennan report .(https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/publications/State%20Restrictions%20on%20Voter%20Registration%20Drives.pdf )

      Florida also held a referendum in which the CITIZENS of Florida voted overwhelmingly to allow people who are out of prison on probation to vote. That would be thousands of men and women currently denied the right even though they have paid for their crimes. The GOP legislature in Florida responded by adding provisions depriving them of that same right if they still owed various fines, etc. …https://www.npr.org/2019/07/01/737668646/aclu-sues-over-florida-law-that-requires-felons-to-pay-fees-fines-before-voting

      Bottom line. Let people vote. Register everyone. Make it easy, especially for working people, single parents, the disabled, etc. What are they afraid of? It can’t be voter fraud since that has been put to rest as an issue. So, what are they afraid of? And why is it ONLY the GOP led states that are involved in these shenanigans?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Terrific, Joseph! JP is a thoughtful guy, and I believe/ hope he will find your discussion here persuasive. If not, I thank you for strengthening my post—and I’m sure you’ve enlightened others!

        Like

      2. Joseph, I agree that we have had more small, isolated instances of voting fraud than large ones. I wish I were as convinced as you that voting fraud has been “put to rest”. As long as there are motivated partisans, high-stakes election and the fallen nature of humanity there will be attempts at voter fraud. The saving grace, in my view, has been the localized nature of elections.

        I have no problem with voting by mail – in theory. What does concern me is the practice of “vote harvesting”, where organized groups with an alliance to one party or the other are permitted to “collect” the ballots of others. I am fine with a voter putting a ballot in a mailbox. I am not fine with some third party who is neither the voter nor a sanctioned election official getting mitts on ballots because it invites abuse.

        I learned a long time ago that when people use words like “always” and “never” in human relationships these statements are almost definitionally untrue and unfair. Political parties are locked in combat and there will always be individuals who will attempt unfair or illegal advantage. It’s a big country and there will always be cheaters in both parties. But I don’t think the process is helped by you and me getting involved in communities where we do not live.

        Like

      3. JP: Decades ago, I used to be the president of my local League of Women Voters—as nonpartisan and good government an organization as there is. One of our most important functions was registering voters—which we did rain or shine. We then delivered the sealed registration forms to the county officials.
        I don’t know whose “mitts” you’re referring to, but it seems to me that school officials and groups like the LWV form an important service in our democracy.
        PS: I hope you were being ironic when you used “always” twice after negating its place in discussion!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. JP. Yes, there will always be attempts at cheating. But even though the Trump folks were going all out to investigate cheating I think it is instructive that they found virtually none. They were very aggressive in looking. And found virtually nothing. So, make any tampering a federal offense with a long prison sentence and high fine.
        I agree that mail in voting can be a problem. One easy solution? Send in ballots to all registered voters, with a free return . No stamp needed. Second, all ballots should be identified with a social security number as the primary ID.
        This would go a long way to minimizing any shenanigans. And it would help insure that all citizens have the ability to vote, no matter their disability, working conditions, illness, poverty level, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am thinking of applying for an absentee ballot in case I get sick and can’t leave my house. Is that something that should be encouraged throughout this country? I am especially angry (the sad hasn’t caught up yet) right now. On April 11th my dad died of Covid-19 and 2 weeks before my mother-in-law died of it. My mom is recovering from it. I have to vote!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so very sorry to hear about the deaths of your father and mother-in-law. Please accept my sincere sympathy. This disease is indeed ravaging through us. I certainly understand your anger.

      I think we need to push our legislators for automatic vote by mail so that people don’t even have to request an absentee ballot. But in the meantime, I think it’s certainly wise to request one and to encourage others to do so.

      I hope your mom’s recovery continues unabated—and that you and the rest of your loved ones stay safe—and allow yourselves to heal by honoring whatever emotions you’re feeling.

      Liked by 1 person

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